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JAZZ, MALONE: IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

EVEN TIM HOWELLS, who is not the most demonstrative man you'll ever meet, couldn't hide his feelings.

"I can't believe we got a player of Jeff Malone's caliber," said the Utah Jazz's general manager Monday night as Malone got off a Delta airplane at the Salt Lake Airport.As for Malone, he said he couldn't believe he got on a team of the Jazz's caliber.

"Of all the teams in the NBA I would liked to have been traded to," said Malone, "Utah was in the top two or three."

"You're talking about one of the teams ready to break into a new level," he said. "At this stage of my career, it's what I want. To be on a team that could win 50 games, go to the playoffs . . .

" . . . Be a contender."

Malone, a seven-year veteran NBA guard with a 20.3 points-per-game career average and two All-Star rings to his credit while playing for the Washington Bullets, said he was watching the playoffs this year when the Jazz played the Phoenix Suns and noticed that the Jazz weren't bombing away all that well from outside.

"I thought to myself, there's a team I could help," he said.

Little did he know that in less than six weeks he'd be tossed a purple, gold and green uniform - and be given a green light to cast away from outside as soon as the 1990-91 season begins.

The first thing Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said when he met his new player last night was, "I wish we could practice right now."

Sloan has to fill gaps left by defensive specialist Bobby Hansen and backup center Eric Leckner, but he is not complaining.

Malones don't come cheap.

The Jazz now have a Malone for each side of the garage. They are a two-Malone franchise.

The latest Malone to wear a Utah uniform is no relation to the two who have preceded him (Moses as a Utah Star, Karl as a Utah Jazz). But that doesn't mean he hasn't had something of an identity problem from time to time.

"Yes, I have been confused for Karl Malone, and for Moses Malone too," said Jeff Malone, who was Moses Malone's teammate for several years in Washington and now is Karl Malone's teammate in Utah.

"People ask me if I'm Karl, or Moses, and I say, 'no, those are big guys. I'm just a little guy,"' he said.

At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds he isn't little by mankind standards, but he is by Malone standards. Moses is 6-10 and 255 pounds. Karl is 6-9 and 250 pounds.

If Karl is "The Mailman," what will Jeff be?

"I'll be the mailbox," he said last night.

Or anything else the Jazz ask of him.

"I'm just happy to be here," he said. "I won't worry about who's scoring the points. I'd like to win a ring."

He said he thinks Sloan will not be disappointed with his defense, either.

"I think my defense gets overlooked because I score a lot of points," he said.

On paper, then, here is how the trade lays out:

- The Jazz get a prolific scoring guard with All-Star credentials, a 2-to-1 turnover ratio (which is borderline phenomenal), and a 47.7 career field goal percentage - who is happy to be a Utahn.

- They give a backup center (Leckner) and a part-time starter at guard (Hansen) and a couple of draft picks - Nos. 23 and 49.

- And they get one draft pick - the 33rd choice - in return.

Scott Layden, the Jazz's director of player personnel, was not at last night's press conference - presumably to avoid being served warrants for grand larceny.

How Layden, and the Jazz, pulled off this heist remains a mystery.

Somehow, they managed to jump in the middle of a deal between Sacramento and Washington and walk away with Jeff Malone.

Sacramento could have traded No. 1 draftee Pervis Ellison to Washington for Jeff Malone, straight across, and no one would have raised an eyebrow.

Instead, the Kings sent Ellison to Washington and got Leckner and Hansen.

And the Jazz got Malone.

How he did it, Layden isn't saying. But he did do it. Malone's appearance at the Salt Lake airport was proof positive of that.

"We feel REALLY good about this," said Howells.

Not only did they get a new Malone, but they got to keep the one they already have.